* Photo supplied. Signing up: In Mumbai, Dr. Brown signed a memorandum of understanding with Whistling Woods Institute founder and chairman Subhash Ghai. Whistling Woods is Asia’s largest film, television, animation and media arts institute.
* Photo supplied. Signing up: In Mumbai, Dr. Brown signed a memorandum of understanding with Whistling Woods Institute founder and chairman Subhash Ghai. Whistling Woods is Asia’s largest film, television, animation and media arts institute.
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Bollywood on the beach.

That's the vision of Premier Dr. Ewart Brown after talks with movers and shakers in the mega-bucks Indian film industry this week.

As tourism initiatives go, the idea to market Bermuda as a backdrop to lavish musical movies aimed at an audience halfway across the world might seem stranger than fiction.

And the idea is already causing a song and dance, with critics questioning why Indian filmmakers would trek to Bermuda to make movies.

James Bond and Jamaica

But Dr. Brown hopes Bollywood could do for Bermuda what James Bond did for Jamaica and make it a must-see-stop on moviegoers' life lists.

With three million Indians living on our doorstep in the U.S., he believes it is worth a shot.

"The Indian film industry is burgeoning and they are producing more and more films for the general market," Dr. Brown told us yesterday from India.

"If we can get Bermuda used to shoot films it would be an incredible way of marketing the island.

"When James Bond movies were filmed in the Bahamas and Jamaica it gave their tourism a huge boost," added Dr Brown, who met with key players in the Indian film industry in Chennai this week.

A tie-in with Indian movie studio Yash Raj films paid dividends for Switzerland, which has seen an upsurge in Indian tourists and even offers Bollywood-themed holiday packages.

"Switzerland engaged with Indian filmakers some time ago and gave them special incentives if they would do some shooting; they saw their tourism [from India] increase by 20 per cent. The same thing happened in Namibia."

The Premier said the Indian filmmakers did not seem deterred by the distance and were interested in finding "destination locations" for their exotic, upbeat movies.

U.S. filmmakers have shied away from using Bermuda as a location because of the cost implications. The producers of Daniel Craig's James Bond debut Casino Royale reportedly looked into filming here before opting for the Bahamas instead.

But Dr. Brown said Indian filmmakers, who rely less on expensive sets and special effects, believed they could produce movies in Bermuda.

Shadow Tourism Minister Michael Dunkley cast doubt on the idea.

"I just wonder why the Premier thinks they are likely to travel halfway round the world to make movies in Bermuda," he said.

UBP Senator Mr. Dunkley, who has dismissed the trip as the Premier's "farewell tour", said Dr. Brown was grasping for reasons to justify his presence in India.

"He is doing as much as he can to justify the time and expense. We've heard about tourism, we've heard about business, now we're hearing about movies. We keep hearing about these memorandums of understanding but I challenge people to have a look in six months or a year's time and see if they are worth the paper they are written on."

Dr. Brown accepted there would be scepticism about some of the ideas.

"It will go down like most things in Bermuda; there will be those who sneer at it and those who welcome it."

The Premier, who met megastar director Rajkumar Hirani and Indian Film Federation president L. Suresh on the Chennai leg of the India trip, also discussed the prospect of Bermudian students travelling to India's renowned Whistling Woods film institute on scholarship programmes.

Tax and commerce

He said the headline-grabbing movie meetings were worth taking. But he insisted they were only a small part of the schedule on a whirlwind trip that has also involved key meetings on tax, finance and commerce.

The Premier said the most important work was being done by the team from the Ministry of Finance, to hammer out a tax information exchange agreement with India.

Dr. Brown, who also met with Dr. Shashi Tharoor, the Indian minister of state for external affairs and a former UN under-secretary general, said it was also important to establish a relationship with politicians and business leaders in India, a growing financial superpower.

"If we are going to have a meaningful relationship with India it is important to cover issues involving the IPPA double taxation agreement. We want to get all of the housekeeping done, so that we can do business."